Archive for September, 2011

A new song from Laura Marling

Laura Marling may have just released an album a couple of weeks ago, but she’s already at work writing more songs. She showcased at least one new untitled song at last night’s show at Weber Hall. (1) And I have to say, I was definitely a fan.

Laura Marling (photo courtesy of Ribbon Music)

(1) Actually, I had the chance to hear the song twice yesterday due to my participation in Marling’s “Experiments in Awkwardness” series. I’d say more, but I don’t want to ruin it. Not yet, anyway. For now, let’s just say I was so close to Marling that I found myself staring into her eyes and counting the freckles on her face. More to come!


Borrowed nostalgia and the mid ’90s alt music scene

The Olivia Tremor Control + The Music Tapes – Le Poisson Rouge – September 21st

Sure, I spent a decent amount of time listening to Of Montreal and Neutral Milk Hotel, but I never really got around to hearing much from most of the other projects tied to the Elephant 6 Collective… which is one of the reasons why I decided to check out The Olivia Tremor Control and The Music Tapes last night. (Review here on Brooklyn Vegan.)

I was curious. Curious to see a couple of early ’90s indie rock legends and curious about their fans. Going to shows featuring new artists can be fun, but it can also be kind of a drag sometimes, especially when the sets are a mess and the crowd is annoyingly aloof and indifferent. Maybe I was also trying to get in on the nostalgia somehow. Group nostalgia is a weird thing. Even if you weren’t technically involved in the scene in the first place, it’s easy to get swept up in the emotions. So I was in elementary school when The Olivia Tremor Control  started playing and touring. What of it?

So I didn’t really have much of an idea of what to expect going into the show, but despite my lack of knowledge about the discographies of the two artists, I immediately felt like a part of the scene, thanks largely to The Music Tapes. Jordan Koster, the main man behind The Music Tapes was a delight. Not only did his music (and the giant 7-foot tall metronome) keep you guessing, Koster himself was full of whimsical mystery.

Julian Koster playing the singing saw at a show on 2/18/09 (photo Bradley's Almanac)

After kicking off the show with a sort of gypsy carnivalesque gig, Koster offered this by way of explanation:

Lovely, lyrical, and magical.

I know there are decent, genuine artists out there who are just beginning their musical careers. I know. But sometimes, it seems like the only bands that get any buzz are the ones that are just saturated with cheap irony and carefully marketed kitschy weirdness. Yes, Julian Koster is quite eccentric and his songs and stage presence are often strange, but there’s something in the music that just feels real, raw, and honest.

Though I enjoyed the frenetic energy of The Olivia Tremor Control, it was The Music Tapes that really intrigued me, so I’ll leave you with a song from them:

Want to hear some stuff from The Olivia Tremor Control? You’re in luck. NPR Music recorded it. Stream it or download it here.

The story behind the soundtrack: Drive

Last Wednesday, I saw a sneak peak of the new Nicolas Winding Refn film, Drive. Head-rush inducing chase scenes, graphic violence, Carey Mulligan + Ryan Gosling love connection? You got ’em – all in a terse 100 minutes.

Though the relationship the movie hinges on is a bit unbelievable (seriously, Carey Mulligan? Gosling is hot, but CAN YOU NOT SEE WHAT A TOTAL LUNATIC HE IS? I mean that satin scorpion jacket alone should clue you in.), there’s no denying the film’s perverse beauty: from the stylized violence to the hypnotic retro techno/pop soundtrack.

Here’s “A Real Hero” by College, one of the soundtrack’s major songs:

After the applause during the credits died down at my screening, I was fortunate enough to hear a Q&A with Refn. The story he told about the film’s background was fascinating. Apparently, Universal came to him with a script for a movie called The Driver. (Not the same movie that ultimately got made.) They were hoping Harrison Ford would be in the title role, but after reading the script, he decided to ditch the project because he “didn’t want to die at the end.”

So Refn met with Gosling. Only their dinner date got cut short since Refn was on some crazy antibiotics that made him “as high as a kite.” So in the middle of their meal, Refn asked Gosling to drive him home. To mask the awkwardness of the drive, Gosling turned on the radio, and REO Speedwagon began to play. Refn turned it up as loud as it would go and started screaming along. Then, it wasn’t long before he started weeping. All the while, Gosling looked straight ahead, his expression neutral.

After a few minutes of this, Refn yells, “I’ve got it! We’ll make a movie about a drive whose only emotional release is pop music!” Gosling pauses a beat, turns to Refn, and simply says, “Cool,” and that’s that. Refn turned Universal loose, re-imagined the script, and made it his own.

“Rock music didn’t suit the movie I was making,” says Refn. “I wanted to make a fairy tale, which is all about truth and purity, but the subtext is violence.”

“[Driver] is half man, half machine,” says Refn. “But the machinery, his car, is an antique. Late ’70s bands like Kraftwerk inspired my idea of making a movie where the score was electronic, but at an infant stage — crude in its technology, yet extremely poetic.” (1)

(1) From an interview with Refn in Spin. (Refn said the same at the Q&A.)

I’ve got a Golden Ticket!

I’ve followed Laura Marling’s “awkwardness experiment” with a deep curiosity.
The idea is pretty simple. Two people + Laura Marling + secret show.

I wanted to talk to someone who had sat in on one of these sessions, but it looks like I may be in for something even better.

I picked up Marling’s new album, A Creature I Don’t Know at Sound Fix today, and I was presented with a golden ticket that looks a little something like this:

From the Ribbon site:

Heads up NYC! Be the first of five people to pick up Laura Marling‘s A Creature I Don’t Know on LP or CD from either Other Music (NYC) or Sound Fix Records (Brooklyn) and you’ll receive this extremely limited invitation with purchase. Once in your possession RSVP to the email address on the ticket and be sure to include your “SECRET CODE” and we’ll be sure to send you further information regarding the location etc… While we’d love to tell you more, sadly we can’t… Nonetheless, we assure you this is one hell of an opportunity! We wouldn’t waste your time if we thought otherwise! Get to either store tomorrow (release date: 9/13) and get your ticket!!

Could it be? Is Marling bringing the show to the States? I certainly hope so.
I don’t know if it’s really a challenge or not, but I’m pretty sure I could out-awkward Laura Marling any day.
Bring it.

Until then, I’ll leave you with my favorite song from the new album:

Sonic Spotlight on Sóley

All right, all right. I know I have a problem. I get a lot of emails from publicists pitching artists to me. Many go unread. (Come on guys… punk? Heavy metal? Not so much.) But there is one thing that is sure to get my attention. Let me give you a hint. The name Sóley Stefánsdóttir… notice anything?

It was as if her name were suddenly on a blinking marquee.

Icelandic artist! Icelandic artist! Icelandic artist!

I thought to myself.

So, meet Sóley Stefánsdóttir, my latest obsession.

(photo Inga Birgisdóttir)

If you’ve seen Seabear or Sin Fang (previously Sin Fang Bous), chances are you’ve already seen Sóley. She has played in both. Apparently, Sóley had never really thought much of her vocal abilities, and it was only after touring with Seabear and singing a lot to herself that she began to “get used to the sound of her own voice” and started to share it with others.

Besides the whimsical sound that seems to be a staple in many of my favorite artists, maybe that’s one of the things that appeals to me most about Scandinavian music. There seems to be a modesty built in to the songs that makes them both charming and intimate in tone. The men of the Danish group Efterklang will applaud for you, the audience, at the end of their show, as if you had just provided the talent. It’s adorable.

“I’ll Drown,” Sóley’s recent single, is a strong introduction to her first full-length album, We Sink.

It has a slow, methodical start – just sparse beats and a plunky but haunting piano melody. But as the song unfurls, it becomes fuller and darker. The dramatic pause, held a beat longer than most would dare, initiates the all-too-honest breakdown. “I drown when I see you,” she sings. The words are simple but powerful. And isn’t that the mark of a truly great pop song? Who among us can’t relate to the words and to the beautiful hesitancy of the song?

We Sink is now available as a digital download. The hard copy drops in another few weeks.

Where my girls at?

I have an oddly ambivalent relationship with female singer-songwriters.

Of course, there are a handful that I absolutely adore: Moon Pix era Cat Power, Laura Marling, Scout Niblett, Julie Doiron, Hope Sandoval, and Sea of Bees come to mind. And there are some that I have passing flings with – the Charlotte Gainsbourgs and Lykke Lis of the world. But more times than not, I just can’t muster any excitement.

Is it my gender that leaves me largely indifferent or downright turned off when it comes to artists like Wye Oak, My Brightest Diamond, or Joanna Newsom? Does some part of me feel threatened by a pretty girl with a guitar?

Heck, I’m not even really into Sharon Van Etten, the indie rock darling of Brooklyn.  Or at least, I didn’t think I was until this week when a couple of her songs popped into my head unexpectedly, prompting me to go back and give Epic another shot.

Then there are still other female artists that I simply never gave a shot. So when I saw that NPR Music was streaming the new St. Vincent album, Strange Mercy, I knew I had to give it a shot. I confess to being embarrassingly ignorant when it comes to Annie Clark’s discography. Sure, I’ve seen her collaborate with other musicians a few times, but somehow, I had never listened to either of her albums.

Strange Mercy opens with a warped organ, some Bjðrk-esque vocals, some potent guitar riffs, and a hip beat. Not what I was expecting. I confess that in my mind, Annie Clark and Miranda July had converged into one person due to their quirky personas, similar hair styles, doe eyes, and ability to steal my male friends’ hearts. But far from being an awkward, twee parody, Annie Clark delivers cool precision.

Here’s “Cruel,” the first video from the new album:

Following a surprisingly upbeat couple of songs, “Cheerleader” sees Clark dipping into a darker, more vulnerable side that more closely matches the tone of her lyrics. (I can’t help but think back to Grizzly Bear’s song by the same title – also excellent.)

Pretty in pink Annie Clark, aka St. Vincent (photo Annabel Mehran)

The album is polished in a way that will surely cause some to balk, but a gritty rawness still permeates the songs and prevents them from turning into eerie exercises in perfection. “Come cut me open,” Clark sings in “Surgeon.”

“[A]n unsparing examination of personal catharsis cloaked in some of the most sublime music of Annie Clark’s career,” boasts 4AD. A pretty piece of copy, indeed. Take a listen for yourself, and let me know if you agree.

"He considered music a liberating force: it liberated him from loneliness, introversion, the dust of the library; it opened the door of his body and allowed his soul to step out into the world to make friends."

- Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being